Monday, January 31, 2011

Julia Karr

rating: 8.5 out of 10 "books"

“Some girls can’t wait to be sixteen, to be legal. Nina is not one of them. Even though she has no choice in the matter, she knows that so long as her life continues as normal, everything will be okay. Then, with one brutal strike, Nina’s normal is shattered; and she discovers that nothing that she once believed about her life is true. But there’s one boy who can help—and he just may hold the key to her past. But with the line between attraction and danger as thin as a whisper, one thing is for sure… for Nina, turning sixteen promises to be anything but sweet.” – Back cover, XVI

As the back cover of Julia Karr’s XVI states, Nina is not thrilled with the idea of turning sixteen. In this futuristic dystopian novel where the Governing Council and the Media controls everything and citizens are bombarded with noise from advertisements and the like 24/7, sixteen is a very important age for females. Sixteen for a girl indicates adulthood, and the legal age for girls to have intimate relations with men. Schools show videos that instruct girls on how to make men happy and “verts,” (advertisements) tell girls, “how popular they’ll be if they dress and act so boys will want to have sex with them” – page 277. However, as exciting as that sounds for girls like Nina’s friend, Sandy, who’s been studying up on XVI Ways learning about what guys like in a “sex-teen” (as sixteen year olds are referred to), Nina knows turning sixteen is more dangerous than liberating. Because at sixteen, girls are required to get a large XVI tattooed on their wrists, and most guys see that as fair game to do whatever with girls and in many cases, without their consent.

Nina and Sandy are considered lower tiered girls. In this version of the future, money is referred to as “credits,” and those with it are considered a tier 10 or higher. The government provides for everyone even those who have no money as long as they agree to government experiments. Nina and Sandy are at a tier 2, and for girls like them there are not many options. Nina can either hope to earn status as a Creative with her artwork, marry an upper tier guy, or enroll in the mandatory FeLS (Female Liaison) program that all lower tiered girls are required to sign up for. Sandy can’t wait to enroll in and hopefully be chosen for FeLS, and escape her lower status, but Nina has reservations as to what the program is actually about. Whereas Sandy’s mom encourages her daughter’s sixteen ways, Nina’s mom instructs her daughter on the dangers of life at sixteen. With Nina’s dad deceased, Ginnie is the only parent Nina has left.

Nina’s life is going ok until major events change everything. With the seemingly impossible prospect of her father being alive, and the threat of her mother’s boyfriend coming after her at every turn, Nina enrolls the help of her friends to discover the truth behind the Governing Council, the Media, and the FeLS program before it’s too late

I thought this was a really great case study if you will, as to what could happen if society really took media portrayals seriously. Karr writes in an interview at the end of the book about how “there is a huge disconnect between the vestiges of our country’s underlying Puritan mind-set regarding sex and the business of selling teen sexuality through media.” It’s already enough that society itself sends girls one message on how to look and act with regards to sexuality; and movies, television, and magazines send girls a completely different message.

I did feel the back cover of this book was somewhat detrimental to the point of XVI. I know that the author did not write it, but whoever included the part that says, “There’s one boy who can help,” kind of missed the point. I saw this book as trying to show Nina as a strong female character, who yeah is dealing with typical teenage hormones but, who doesn’t need a prince charming to save her. To include that line on the back cover kind of drops the book down from “independent woman” theme of the story back to the typical “weak damsel in distress in need of rescuing from a man,” portrayal of women.

The only other major problem that I had with this book was how Karr wrote about sixteen year old girls as if becoming sixteen was like contracting a disease that made girls only want to have sex with every guy in sight. I know that this was the message the girls in this book were getting from the Media, and that was just bleeding through onto the pages when the female characters were thinking or speaking, but it got annoying after awhile. With Sandy basically saying things like “you won’t be able to think about anything else besides sex once you turn sixteen,” I started getting really mad. Especially since this didn’t seem to be the case at all for any of the guys in the story. The author never really included any dialogue that showed how Nina’s guy friends felt about the girls becoming sex-teens, or how they felt about sex at all. It seemed like the guys were the level-headed characters of the story, especially the character of Sal. Nina and Sal would be making out and Nina would be freaking out with thoughts of “oh I’m no better than a sex-teen with my intimate thoughts and wanting to do more with Sal,” while Sal seemed to be all smooth talking and in control, with no resemblance of the typical horny sex-obsessed teenage boy most of us are familiar with.

I really enjoy stories that look at an extreme version of our future if current global practices continue; whether environmentally, socially, politically, etc. If you like dystopian books, or books that portray a very realistic future, I’d recommend (both guys and girls) checking out XVI. In a world where kids can’t wait to grow up, it’s refreshing to read a cautionary story about wanting too much too soon. Although the book mentions sex a lot, XVI is more about the dangers of teenage relations and attitudes towards it, as opposed to an endorsement. Nothing obscene happens, so parents of teenagers rest easy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Megan McCafferty ARC Contest!!!

I don't know how many of you bloggers out there are familiar with the Jessica Darling series (Sloppy Firsts...etc.) by Megan McCafferty, but the very talented author is coming out with a new book, "Bumped" in April. Check out Bibliophile Brouhaha's page for an in-depth interview with Megan and a chance to win an advance copy of Bumped!!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Object of Beauty: A Novel
Steve Martin

rating: 4.5 out of 10 "books"

Who knew that goofy Steve Martin of SNL fame was such a renaissance man? Not only can he claim comedy and acting to his repertoire, but he can also add musician, playwright, and author of both adult and children’s fiction to that list. When I first heard that Martin was an author I expected, much like other comedians who write books, that his work would be super funny. But I was very surprised to find out that his adult fiction is pretty serious and oftentimes somewhat tragic. For someone to be able to switch gears in such a way that Steve Martin can, it’s no wonder why he’s such a recognized individual.

Martin’s latest book An Object of Beauty, explores the world of the New York art scene as experienced by art reviewer Daniel Franks and his wild card female friend Lacey. The story is told as if written by Daniel himself, mostly chronicling the life of Lacey with little instances where Daniel and Lacey’s lives intersect. Known as first person omniscient, Wikipedia refers to this as “a rare form of first person in which the narrator is a character in the story, but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters.” Lacey, who can be a very manipulative and selfish character, is young, beautiful, carefree and knows how to use this to her advantage. Starting off at the very bottom of the totem pole, Lacey quickly works her way up in the art world by paying very close attention to the people, and art, she comes in contact with. As with any kind of story that has a tragic aspect to it, this may be what ultimately unravels her.

The author definitely did a good job researching for this story, for as a reader you are constantly bombarded with healthy doses of art history. The one thing I especially liked about this story was the connection between the art itself and Lacey as “beautiful objects.” If you hadn’t already guessed, the title of this book refers to art, but at some point while reading the story, one starts to wonder if art and Lacey are not paralleling one another. There’s even a line early on that really caught my attention. In it, Lacey is really starting to get a handle on the worth of certain art works and what draws people to one particular piece and not another of similar composition. As Lacey starts to factor in various characteristics, Martin writes, “her toe crossed ground from which it is difficult to return: she started converting objects of beauty into objects of value.” That line right there had a lot of weight to it that stayed with me throughout my reading of this novel.

My suggestion is, if you like anything art related or are a huge art history buff pick up this book. It definitely makes reading it a lot easier. This was not one of those books that I could finish in one sitting just because An Object of Beauty is definitely a lot more technical then some of his other works. But even so, Steve Martin’s descriptively flowing words, not to mention his departure from the funny man we know him as, make it worth checking out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Charles Benoit

rating: 6.5 out of 10 "books"

“This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. You’re just a typical fifteen-year-old sophomore, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can’t be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place? There had to be signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them?” – Front Flap of YOU

Kyle Chase is the perfect example of so many of the kids you’ve seen or heard about in school systems who have sort of slipped through the cracks somewhere along the line. Between middle school and high school Kyle made some poor choices that landed him at the school for underachievers, Midlands High School, instead of Odyssey High School. He knows the mistakes he’s made, but can’t begin to fathom how to change them: the grades, the deadbeat friends, most of all his relationship with his parents. YOU spends a large portion of the story lost in Kyle’s anxiety over his wanting to change, and being perfectly apathetic to everything. Then there’s the issue of Kyle’s uncontrollable anger in the midst of all his other roller coaster-esque emotions. As Kyle puts it, “Life would be so much easier if they just left you alone, let you do what you wanted. You wouldn’t’ cause them any grief, you’d take care of yourself make your own food and get yourself where you needed to go.” That statement right there reminded me so much of how I thought towards my own parents, adults, authority figures, etc. at one point during my teenage life, so in that regard, I think Benoit did a really great job of connecting with his inner teenager. And why shouldn’t he of, having been a former high school teacher dealing with teens day in and day out?

Getting back to the story, things for Kyle continue in the above manner until he meets the new kid, smooth-talking confident Zack McDade. For all the weirdness that is Zack, Kyle can’t help but notice that Zack seems to have his life together. And maybe that’s why Kyle begins to hang out with Zack, and things start to pick up in Kyle’s life. But maybe that was Kyle’s biggest mistake. YOU is a fast-paced read that ends where it starts, with a shocking conclusion. It was definitely an emotional read for me, that had me switching between anger at Kyle’s attitude and choices, sympathy in his desire to change all that, pissed off at the character of Zack, and horrified at what happens at the end. If you want a story that will take no time to read, and maybe give you a little inside look at that kid you kind of know at school who has no aspirations and seems to purposely screw things up for himself (but you know is a good kid), check out YOU by Charles Benoit.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

100+ Challenge


So j-kaye-book-blog (now Home Girl's Book Blog) hosts a 100+ reading challenge every year and I did it in 2010 reading about 25+ (many were not recorded or written about on my blog sadly... 25 books does not make me look very good!!!), so I've decided to try it again this year as well as taking part in the library challenge. I hope to be able to read (and review) a lot more books this time around. Come on 2011!!!!

Tell Me a Secret
Holly Cupala

rating: 9 out of 10 "books"

“It’s tough, living in the shadow of a dead girl. No one mentions my sister. If they do, it’s mentioning her by omission, relief that I am nothing like her. I am the good sister. Thank God.” – Tell Me a Secret pg. 1

It’s been five years since Miranda Mathison’s bad girl sister, Xanda, died, but the mystery surrounding her death and the secret Xanda took to her grave still haunts Miranda. Now seventeen, the age Xanda was when she died, Miranda, or Rand, is dealing with some issues of her own. Her perfect life: an awesome boyfriend, perfect best friend, and promising future at art school after graduation, are all shaken up when two little pink lines on a pregnancy test threaten to destroy everything Rand has worked so hard for. To top it all off, the shaky relationship she’s had with her mother all her life, especially after the death of her “failure” of a sister, feels like it’s been permanently derailed after the news of her pregnancy leaks.

But the truth is, Rand has always wanted to be like Xanda. Maybe that’s why she surrounds herself with bad girl Delaney, and had isolated herself from her once best friend, Essence. So while all these bad things keep happening to her, Rand can’t help but obsess over the vagueness of Xanda’s death, and the secret truth that her parents might be keeping from her surrounding the way her sister died. The only problem is that it seems everyone has turned against Rand, her best friend and boyfriend included. With no one to talk to, not even her parents, Rand is completely on her own in terms of her pregnancy.

Talk about capturing the essence of high school! True, I’ve been out of high school for quite awhile now, but it felt like I was sucked right back into the drama of it all whilst reading this book. I for one, know how hard high school can be; how mean, manipulative, clique-y, and backstabbing (even your good friends!) can be. Cupala was able to capture all of the emotional angst and hardships that many teens face while pursuing secondary education, even more so, when you’re a soon-to-be teenage mother. I would never wish what happened to Rand in this story on anyone. And if you thought your mother was bad, wait until you get a load of Rand’s mom. In a somewhat related note, I also thought Holly Cupala did a really awesome job of representing (no offense my teenage friends!), the kind of ignorance young people have at that age, whereas, instead of going and finding out the facts for sure yourself, making a judgment call and abandoning your friend(s), boyfriend, or girlfriend based on what someone else told you. There was so many times when I wanted to yell at certain characters in the book because things were so obvious to me as an adult reader, and so easy to fix, but understandably confusing to a teen.

The only downside, that I was able to think of when it came to this story, was Xanda’s “secret.” Either the author was really unclear about what it actually was, or I just assumed one part of the story was the secret, but I was a little let down by Rand’s discovery as it related to Xanda. However, when all is said and done, I thought this was a really great book. It wasn’t just one of those “oh hey, another teenage pregnancy” kind of stories. I’ve read a lot of YA books in my time, and this was one of the few that really did YA right: no crazy/complicated love triangles, too mature for their age characters, or Gossip Girl-esque storylines. Holly Cupala definitely knows her stuff and I’m positive that if I had read this book in high school, I would have related to it even more than I just did a handful of years later. Go out and read this book!